Shedding The Past, the first album for German producer Shed, a.k.a. Rene Pawlowitz, is an album in service to its history while making for the front – ‘the future as the past a little later,’ as Alan Sondheim once said. This means it somehow resonates with the wave of nostalgia that’s currently engulfing electronic music culture (witness the recent wave of reissues: GAS, Vladislav Delay, Pole, the upcoming Studio 1 disc, and so on). Shed’s moves are smart, and his occasional leapfrogging between techno and dubstep makes him timely; even as his productions trip all the right switches in your head, their reflective, referential qualities (you’ll hear Detroit, Chain Reaction, Aphex Twin) somehow give the album a weighty, mournful undertow.
It’s that elegiac tone that keeps me coming back to Shedding The Past, trying to figure out exactly why it tugs the heart strings so. In many ways, it’s the most serviceable, functional cuts that really snag the ears and the body, like “That Beats Everything!,” which is one of the few tracks monomaniac in its focus on the 4/4 piston-pulse. Simply constructed from streamlined rhythm and fibrillating, time-warp electronic noise, it’s powerful because it’s so unyielding. But even when Pawlowitz shifts his rhythmic grids away from the stentorian fist of four-to-the-floor, his tracks are somehow tough and cold.
But it’s when he breaks through that dominant emotional tone that Pawlowitz really elevates his form, particularly the light, aerated pianos that flit through “Slow Motion Replay.” They’re captivating because they feel slightly out of place amongst Shedding The Past’s slabs of concrete and gusts of dusty air, a beam of heartbreaking succor in amongst the album’s graying hues. It’s not quite ‘cheese factor,’ and he’s not exactly letting the light in, but somehow “Slow Motion Replay”’s textural properties, particularly when supported by pads that are closer to ambient wash than faded-out third-gen Detroit, are both pleasurable and tear-jerking. I wish Shed had worked that angle a little more, but as it is, everything else here’s at least poised and articulate, focused and taut.